These 7 Tips Could Save Your German Shepherd’s Life (Aggression Triggers)

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This article is about one thing – how your German Shepherd can live a safe and happy life with both your family, and other humans and animals.

We’re talking specifically about German Shepherd behavior – how even the most friendly and well natured dogs can suddenly flip after years of perfect behavior.

We wanted to identify for you common situations which may trigger a dog to suddenly turn aggressive or behave negatively, even with a no history of aggressive behavior at all.

These tips don’t apply just to German Shepherds though, but rather to any dog breed.

It’s so easy to look at your dog as a fluffy teddy bear or a fur child, give them never ending love, and not look at dogs logically for who they are and where they’ve come from (which is fair enough – if a dog has never shown us anything but love, why would we expect anything different?)

We forget dogs were wild animals before they were domesticated, and those wild drives don’t just disappear.

We hope these 7 educational and informational tips can help you better your understanding of your GSD’s perspective, and hopefully minimise the chance of any unwanted or unsafe event from occurring for your GSD, other people and other animals.

NOTE: these tips are informational and anecdotal only – they are not intended to be professional or qualified advice. 

These 7 Tips Could Save Your German Shepherd’s Life (Aggression Triggers)

 

A Quick Story First…Why Did We Write This Guide?

We wanted to share with you a quick story as to why we wrote this informational guide – to give you an idea of why we think it could be so important.

One of our publishers had this story to share, which they hope by sharing can raise awareness for a better understanding of our treasured fur babies:

“When I was about 27, I dropped into my parents place one day, and my mother told me she was having a medium to large group of friends over to the house.

She asked if I would mind babysitting our family dog (Max) for a few hours because she knew he would get excited with so many people, and especially young children around.

She wanted to socialise with her friends without him jumping on them and licking them obsessively.

I said yes, no worries.

Up until that point, Max was in my eyes the most kind hearted, beautiful natured dog that could do no wrong.

We had had a Jack Russell previously, and he was a little crazy to say the least. Max was everything that Jack Russell was not (although we still loved our Jack Russell!!).

Not only was he extremely cuddly and loving with us, but my parents had had people over for 3 years prior to that and they had never once seen him show any signs of aggression. Quite the opposite – he would sniff them to death and be very welcoming.

Dog walks he was fine – hundreds of people had patted him on dog walks over the years and mentioned how even though he was big, he was a sweetheart.

He would even sit like a lovely kind soul on his mattress while my aunty would come around each week and clean the house. She simply loved him too.

Anyway, I sat with him in a top room of the house with the doors closed watching tv while people arrived. I decided to take him for a walk so he could let off some energy, because he started barking and scratching at the door – nothing out of the ordinary

I got back from the walk, and although Max was tired, he was still excitable with all the noise going on outside – people chatting, laughing and little kids playing in the pool.

My mother could hear him barking, and decided to bring him a bone to chew on.

About 10 minutes later, because my mother adored him, she wanted to show Max off to her friends who also owned big dogs, and were interested in seeing and patting him.

I still remember it like it was yesterday – my mother came in with her friends, while Max was chewing on his bone.

They were chatting away, laughing, and fawning over how beautiful Max looked.

I’m not sure why, but as one of my mother’s friends reached out to pat him, I got a weird feeling in my stomach like something wasn’t quite right – even though Max didn’t show any signs that he wasn’t acting like normal at all.

You never want to see anyone harmed, let alone women.

Everything went into slow motion…on her second or third pat, Max snapped and bit my mother’s friend on the forearm 2 or 3 times, before standing his ground bareing his teeth.

I can still hear the screams and shrieks in my head, and the looks on not only my mother’s face, but her friends’ faces as they stood in shock looking at each other, before running out of the room.

I was in absolute shock. I didn’t know what to do. I was not only shocked, but embarrassed, extremely worried for my mother’s friend’s well being, and just sat there at Max and he sat back down like nothing had happened and began chewing on his bone again.

I want to say Max is fine – luckily my mother’s friend had owned big dogs her whole life and had had cases of random aggression in the past with one of their dogs years ago. So, they said don’t worry about it – the bite marks weren’t scarring or permanent anyway.

But, ever since then, my mother has been different around Max, and I’ve seen him in a different light too. 

We got him a muzzle straight away, and my parents are scared to let anyone pat him without it on – even though the chances of him doing anything are probably low.

I always think “Holy heck…what if that had been a little kid, or someone with their face close to Max’s face?”. It’s so scary to think how ugly that could have turned out – innocent people being harmed and Max getting put down. I find it hard to process even what actually happened.

You might say, “well that’s dumb and you’re an idiot – everyone knows you shouldn’t let a stranger pat your dog while they are feeding or chewing on something”.

You might be right, but that’s just it, some people just don’t know, and that’s the issue I wanted to bring awareness to. We aren’t given an owners manual when we get a dog that tells us all the little triggers that can set off a dog – and that’s not even taking into account an individual dog’s genetic makeup and breed background.

Most of us, in a family and pet type environment simply FORGET our dogs are not humans that understand social behavior all the time. They are DOGS with dog drives, temperaments and behaviours.”

 

7 Triggers For Aggression In Any Dog (What You Might Look Out For)

Aggression and undesirable behavior in dogs can be complex and have a range or factors and variables.

If you believe your dog is at risk of either being aggressive, or turning aggressive, you might want to make a decision to see a vet and/or professional dog trainer immediately.

However, if your dog has never been aggressive or shown aggressive traits, what can you do to minimise the risk of the behavior surfacing?

There’s many things you can do from understanding the breed, to getting your dog from a quality breeder who breeds dogs with stable temperaments, to bonding with your dog, to socialising them, to training them and treating them positively.

But, another thing you might do is be aware of common triggers that can set any dog off. If you can see any of them arising, either prevent them from happening, or put safety measure in place to prevent danger to your dog or others.

Here are some common triggers that might turn even the most friendly dog aggressive (these triggers can be caused by other humans, other pets and animals, your family or you):

1. Previous Aggression

The obvious one.

If you’re dog has shown previous signs of aggression or dangerous behavior, there is no way of guaranteeing they won’t do it again – unfortunately!

Professional training or consulting a vet/animal behavior expert might be able to significantly improve the behavior and give you some helpful management tools and techniques, but it doesn’t magically wipe an instinct or drive from a dog.

Follow the advice of an expert if your dog has show signs of aggression before – a muzzle might be a cheap and useful tool in this instance when your dog is around other dogs and other people (even if it looks scary).

 

2. Pain, Discomfort, Frustration or Fear

Poking, touching and pulling ears and the face by little kids is a common one.

Hard patting or touching a dog in an uncomfotable or painful area is another one.

Limit contact with your dog to areas you know they don’t mind being touched, and advise strangers how they should pat your dog.

The same goes for disciplining or training your dog. You shouldn’t hit or yell at your dog – if you do, your dog may look to defend itself.

Vet visits and grooming are other instances where a dog might feel discomfort or fear.

 

3. Invading Personal Space Or Cornering

A HUGE one. Dogs can feel intimidated, trapped, or scared when you get too close to them – especially their face.

Be extremely careful about letting a stranger approach your dog face to face, or with fingers stretched out.

For strangers, limit first contact to a closed fist, and approach the dog slowly – monitor the dog’s behavior before letting patting commence.

The same goes for cornering a dog and not letting them have anywhere to go – always ensure your dog has space and freedom in their movement.

 

4. Running Away From Or Chasing Your Dog

Almost all German Shepherds still have the herding instinct and drive in them – which some want to round people up or corner them and mouth them.

This mouthing can sometimes lead to aggression if the dog gets triggered in some way.

Different dogs also have different levels of prey drive – their drive to want to chase and subdue living creatures (before domestication dogs had to chase and kill their food).

Teaching your dog as a puppy how to play safely is important, or just limit running and chasing activities.

Kids on scooters and bikes is a classic example of when your dog might chase or herd people.

 

5. Excitement and Arousal

Excitement and arousal can over stimulate your dog.

When a dog is over stimulated they may look to get rough in their behavior or get aggressive as a release.

Excitement and arousal have been linked to aggression – so try to train your dog to be calm and non reactive in exciting environments.

That, or remove them from exciting environments altogether.

 

6. Perceived Threats and Dangers

Your German Shepherd might feel threatened by another dog or human, particularly if they are a stranger and on the dog’s territory

Delivery people, the mail man, other people’s dogs, people your dog hasn’t met before and got comfortable with – are all examples of when a dog might feel threatened or like there is danger present.

A dog can even be comfortable with someone and then notice something about the way they are moving or what they are wearing and it can trigger them.

Early and regular socialisation and training is so important for this reason.

Some dogs might have higher dominance drives and a tendency to be territorial than others, which can cause aggression more easily.

Professional training might be required for exceptionally high prey drive dogs.

 

 

7. Resource or Possession Protection

Food, toys, territory, and people are all example of things a German Shepherd might get possessive or protective over.

In these instances, the dog values the resource or possession as their own, and might be triggered to protect it by rushing or biting someone who they think are trying to take it.

Certainly stay away from dogs while they are feeding.

But, training while dogs are young to share and redirect possessive or overly protective behavior is important.

 

Example Of Unexpected German Shepherd Aggression

Here is a prime example of an unexpected trigger setting off a police dog – some of the most well trained, obedient and disciplined dogs out there.

Even the police dog’s handler thought the reporter was going to be OK.

The reporter gets too close to the dogs face, most likely triggering the dog to feel uncomfortable, trapped, or threatened, and the dog lunges/bites to get the reporter away:

 

Other Resources On Triggers and Aggression You Might Be Interested In

Animal Humane Society – Aggression in Dogs

German Shepherd Aggression, Biting, and Attacking

 

Friendly Disclaimer 🙂 

TheDailyShep.com are not veterinarians, or animal professionals/experts. Information provided is for informational purposes only – it is not a substitute for professional or qualified advice.

The information is based on either our own thorough research, and/or own experiences, as a means of free speech.

By consuming this information, you accept that TheDailyShep.com do not have client or patient relationship with you, and TheDailyShep.com are not advising you to act on anything you read.

You should always consult your own veterinarian, animal expert, or health care professional and follow their advice before making decisions on all matters.

You can find our full set of disclaimers and T & C’s in the footer of this site.

Enjoy your reading, and thank you for being here 🙂 

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